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Arithmetic - Reading the Question Carefully

We all know that we need to be very careful while reading GMAT questions – that every word is important. Even small oversights can completely change an answer for you. This is what happens with many test takers who try to tackle this official question. Even though the question looks very simple, the way it is worded causes test-takers to often ignore one word, which changes the solution entirely. Let’s look at this question now:

 

Alice’s take-home pay last year was the same each month, and she saved the same fraction of her take-home pay each month. The total amount of money that she had saved at the end of the year was 3 times the amount of that portion of her monthly take-home pay that she did NOT save. If all the money that she saved last year was from her take-home pay, what fraction of her take-home pay did she save each month?

(A) 1/2
(B) 1/3
(C) 1/4
(D) 1/5
(E) 1/6

 

Let’s consider the question stem sentence by sentence:

 

“Alice’s take-home pay last year was the same each month, and she saved the same fraction of her take-home pay each month.”

Say Alice’s take-home pay last year was $100 each month. She saves a fraction of this every month – let the amount saved be x.

 

“The total amount of money that she had saved at the end of the year was 3 times the amount of that portion of her monthly take-home pay that she did NOT save.”

What would be “the total amount of money that she had saved at the end of the year”? Since Alice saves x every month, she would have saved 12x by the end of the year.

 

What would be “the amount of that portion of her monthly take-home pay that she did NOT save”? Note that this is going to be (100 – x). Many test takers end up using (100 – x)*12, however this equation is not correct. The key word here is “monthly” – we are looking for how much Alice does not save each month, not how much she does not save during the whole year.

 

The total amount of money that Alice saved at the end of the year is 3 times the amount of that portion of her MONTHLY take-home pay that she did not save. Now we know we are looking for:

12x = 3*(100 – x)
x = 20

 

“If all the money that she saved last year was from her take-home pay, what fraction of her take-home pay did she save each month?”

From our equation, we have determined that Alice saved $20 out of every $100 she earned every month, so she saved 20/100 = 1/5 of her take-home pay.

 

Therefore, the answer is D.

 

Often, test-takers make the mistake of writing the equation as:

12x = 3*(100 – x)*12
x = 300/4

 

However, this will give them the fraction (300/4)/100 = 3/4, and that’s when they will wonder what went wrong.

 

Be extra careful when reading GMAT questions so that precious minutes are not wasted on such avoidable errors.

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